Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Women's Self Defence Courses - Effective or Not? Pt 2

This is part two of an as unyet defined number of posts based on a study on the effectiveness of women's self defence (WSD) training that I came across while researching Beyond Fight-or-Flight : L.R. Brecklin and S.E. Ullman, 2005, 'Self-Defense or Assertiveness Training and Women's Responses to Sexual Attacks', Journal of Interpersonal Violence 20(6): 738-762. The study investigated the relationship of self-defense or assertiveness training and women’s physical and psychological responses to subsequent rape attacks. This post will look at the results of the study.

The present study will examine the effects of self-defense or assertiveness training on sexual assault victims using data from 3,187 female college students through the National Survey of Intergender Relationships conducted by Mary Koss. Several published studies have been conducted using this national data set (...); however, no study has examined the relationship between self-defense or assertiveness training and women's responses to sexual attacks. Because there is limited research available on this important topic, this study will be the first using a national sample to examine whether self-defense or assertiveness training is associated with a decrease in women's sexual victimization. Until primary prevention of rape occurs, women should have access to tools for responding to this threat.
There are many 'opinions' concerning the effectiveness of WSD courses - mostly uninformed opinions. I've discovered there is a large body of research associated with WSD and sexual assault; but that research lies buried in academic journals and those who could most benefit from that knowledge do not have access to it. This in part reflects the prevailing tendency of self defence instructors and developers (no matter the discipline, and not restricted to WSD) to rely on commonly conceived or their own 'understanding' rather than adequately informing their knowledge base.
A national sample of 3,187 female college students from 32 institutions of higher education across the United States was administered an anonymous self-report questionnaire. ... For the sample, there was a 98.5% response rate.
The majority of the 1,623 victims in this sample were White (89.1%), unmarried (88.2%), lived off campus (60.4%), and were an average of 21.7 years old at the time of the survey.
Go back one step. A national sample of 3,187 female college students were administered a questionnaire and there was a 98.5% response rate. That is 3,139 respondents, of which 1,623 were categorised as 'victims' based on their responses. 51.7% of the female respondents reported having experienced some form of defined sexual victimisation. This alarming finding does not even rate a mention in the study. Given I have three adopted nieces who are 19 (twins) and 22, this finding registers with the urgency of an air raid siren during the height of the Blitz in WWII London for me.
Unwanted sexual contact was defined as women who experienced unwanted fondling or kissing without attempts at sexual intercourse because of a man’s continual arguments or pressure, his misuse of authority, threats of physical harm, or actual physical force. The group labeled sexual coercion included women who experienced sexual intercourse following the man's use of continual arguments or his misuse of authority but without threats of force or direct physical force. Attempted rape was assessed with two questions (e.g., 'Have you had a man attempt sexual intercourse [get on top of you, attempt to insert his penis] when you didn’t want to by threatening or using some degree of force [twisting your arm, holding you down, etc.], but intercourse did not occur?'). The second question assessing attempted rape using similar phrasing asked about attempted intercourse where the offender gave the victim alcohol or drugs. Completed rape was assessed with several questions meeting the legal definition of rape (e.g., 'Have you had sexual intercourse when you didn't want to because a man threatened or used some degree of physical force [twisting your arm, holding you down, etc.] to make you?').
This brings home to me that, in addition to protecting their daughters, parents have a responsibility to educate their sons about appropriate sexual behaviour. WSD course participants are mothers, or may become mothers.

I decided to suggest to people who wanted to buy me presents for Christmas to donate to CARE Australia. CARE Australia is an Australian charity and international humanitarian aid organisation fighting global poverty, with a special focus on empowering women and girls to bring lasting change to their communities. Why focus on empowering women and girls? Because, 'our research has shown that if we help one women out of poverty, she'll bring four others with her.' Mothers can influence the boy, and shape the man he becomes. Who better to teach the boy who becomes a man how to respect women than a women who the boy respects. Mothers can influence future generations of males far more effectively than any government or private institution initiated male 'education' program.
Sexual victimization severity for the sample was as follows: unwanted sexual contact (27.3%), sexual coercion (21.1%), attempted rape (22.6%), and completed rape (29.0%).

Of the 51.5% respondents who reported some form of defined sexual victimisation, 26.7% of respondents reported being subjected to an attempted rape or a completed rape. Now we are getting back to the 1 in 4 women experience rape or attempted rape statistic that is often quoted.

The victim offender relationship characteristics were: stranger 6.4%, acquaintance 44.5%, and intimate 49.5%. These findings are consistent with the common findings that the vast majority of rapes are attempted by familiars. This fact has huge implications in terms of understanding survivor's responses. Think about it. 80%-90% of all sexual assaults on a female are perpetrated by an acquaintance or an intimate. It is a very different scenario being attacked by a stranger than being attacked by someone you know, trust, and care about to varying degrees. The change in mindset that is required, in an instant, to defend yourself is ... inconceivable. It goes against our evolved natures.

The abovementioned fact has huge implications for WSD training and course development as well.
Self-defense training prepares women both mentally and physically for potential assaults (...) by providing them with opportunities to learn, observe, and practice physical, social, and cognitive skills through the use of role-plays, discussion, and simulation exercises (...). ... Women’s self-defense lessons often include learning how to create impromptu weapons (e.g., comb, keys) and how to use body parts (e.g., fists, elbows, knees) against the offender’s particularly vulnerable body targets (e.g., eyes, jaw, nose, groin) in various situations (...).
Stress training, stress inoculation training, stress exposure training, reality based training, etc. are methods designed to increase the effectiveness of the participants in 'real-life' situations by exposing the participants to simulated experiences. ... Can you see where I'm going? Most WSD courses have an implication, or are actually based on, stranger-attack/rape. Stranger-attack/rape make up a very small percentage of attacks/rapes on females. Stranger-attack/rape involves a very different mental/emotional experience than attack/rape by an acquaintance or an intimate. Do the WSD courses teach social and cognitive skills to cater for the latter, more prevalent, scenario? Do they use role-plays and simulation exercises featuring acquaintances or intimates as the threat?

I'm reading about WSD courses where women are taught to attack vulnerable parts of the attacker's anatomy. Sometimes with lethal effect. The attacker for training purposes is suited up with padded outfits. Some courses do not allow the men playing the 'attacker' to interact with the female participants of the course. How does not allowing the women to identify with their 'attacker' during training support the 'reality based' training methodology?

Is not referencing the 'typical attacker' in these WSD courses detrimental to the effectiveness of these courses? Or, does the 'non-reality' based methodology actually better prepare the participants for reality? I do not profess to have the answers (yet), but, course developers, instructors, and participants should be aware of, and understand, the questions; and the course developers and instructors should be expected to understand and explain the underlying assumptions of their course and methods.

'Close to one half of victims reported they used alcohol (41.6%), and their attacker used alcohol (50.9%) prior to the incident.' This should come as no surprise. Alcohol is a factor in a significant proportion of crimes and tragedy. Instructors should never shirk the issue of raising this fact for fear of being categorised as a 'wowser'.

FPR = forceful physical resistance; NFPR = nonforceful physical resistance, e.g. fleeing, blocking blows; FVR = forceful verbal resistance, e.g., screaming, yelling at, or threatening offender; and NFVR = nonforceful verbal resistance e.g., pleading, begging, reasoning.
To assess victim resistance, respondents were asked, 'id you do any of he following to resist his advances?'including the following categories: (a)turn cold; (b) reason, plead, quarrel, or tell him to stop; (c) cry or sob; (d) scream for help; (e) run away; and (f) physically struggle, push him away, hit, or scratch. Respondents were asked to check either no or yes for each type of resistance. Those victims who physically struggled, pushed, hit, or scratched their offenders were coded as using FPR, and victims who ran away were coded as using NFPR. FVR included those victims who screamed for help, whereas NFVR was coded as present for victims who cried, sobbed, reasoned, pleaded, quarreled, or told the offender to stop.
Findings: FPR 47.4%, NFPR 9.5%, FVR 6.4%, and NFVR 78.9%.

'Eighty-two percent of the victims used at least one type of resistance strategy.' A word on 'resistance'. Jan Jordan, 2005, 'What Would MacGyver Do?: The Meaning(s) of Resistance and Survival', Violence Against Women 11: 531-559:
Rape resistance is, at best, a thorny issue; at worst, an expectation by which victims of rape are assessed and judged. On one hand, women have been told that a little resistance is all it takes to fend off a rapist; it is only by submitting that a woman 'gets herself' raped (...). Hence criminal justice system agencies have interpreted physical injuries to the woman as evidence of her resistance, construing these as necessary indicators of a lack of consent (...). On the other hand, the prevention advice often given to women has been not to resist, that resistance may anger a rapist and provoke greater injury, even death (...). In the face of such contradictory advice, the message to women is chillingly clear — women are damned if they do and damned if they don't. Although women are socialized against being aggressive and expected to be submissive in their relationships with men, 'The irony is that when confronted with a rapist who is physically stronger and may be armed, a woman is suddenly expected to struggle, fight, and resist to a degree not otherwise expected' (Burgess, 1999, p. 8).
'Irony' is not a description that leaps to mind when I think about the world my adopted nieces face in this regard.
Traditional police advice often urged women, when attacked, not to resist. Police advice to women suggesting they submit to rape has been criticized on several grounds (...). First, it reflects a view of rape as simply unwanted sex—give in and let him have his way with you, and you will be okay. As Stanko (1990) pointed out, the woman is not submitting to sex but to rape, a vast violation of her body and being. The very essence of rape makes it impossible to 'submit' to; rape by definition implies being taken against one's will. Second, there are times when women, when attacked, have decided not to resist physically; however, to portray this as submission ignores the mental component involved. Submitting to his will is a different prospect from evaluating the situation and determining that physical struggle may not be the best strategy with a particular offender. A lack of physical resistance, then, does not denote a lack of mental resistance. Kelly (1988) was one of the few writers to have observed that 'Women resist by refusing to be controlled, although they may not physically resist during an actual assault. Resistance, therefore, involves active opposition to abusive men's behavior and/or the control they seek to exert'(p. 161).).
A sobering few words on sexual victimisation resistance.

'More than one half of respondents (52.9%) said that the offender stopped or became less aggressive because of their resistance.' This is a statistic that needs a great deal of investigation. For instance, there are studies that suggest that NFVR is not effective in preventing an attack, and might even encourage violence.
Women perceived that the offenders used a moderate level of aggression and that the offenders were highly responsible for their assaults. The victims also felt that they were moderately responsible for their own assaults and that they used a relatively high level of nonconsent or resistance.
Injury science analyses an injury event in temporal terms as pre, during, and post event. Injury science analyses an injury event in these temporal terms in order to prevent an injury, reduce the severity of an injury, and/or to improve recovery from an injury. Self defence courses ought to analyse violent events in the same manner, and develop strategies for each of these three temporal phases. Women are never responsible for a sexual assault. They may increase the risks of sexual assault, e.g. becoming intoxicated (see above), but they are not responsible for their assault. This understanding has implications for post-assault recovery.

'Women reported moderate levels of fear, anger, and sadness during the incident.' The reference to emotions is what drew me to this paper. WSD courses often teach women to become angry when attacked. The action tendency for anger is fight; and the emotion of anger energises the body to fight. Anger reduces inhibitions for aggression and violence. Anger is being used as a tool. Interestingly, another study I'm in the process of reading refers to advanced courses of the Model Mugger WSD course. The basic course uses anger. The courses that flow on from this course, often relating to the use of and defence against weapons, involves controlling your emotions. Much the same as most martial arts profess to teach. Manage the intensity of your emotions. Referring to a previous post of mine, this strategy attempts to instill learned responses to a threat that would be categorised as predatory/instrumental aggression or violence rather than affective/emotional aggression or violence.

'Approximately one half of respondents reported that they discussed their experience with someone (51.4%).' Why? Judgements. Society judges them. The law, by definition, judges them. Their family and friends judge them. We judge them. Is it any wonder they judge themselves?

I've always taught that WSD courses are not just about the participants experience of assault (no matter how it is defined). Given 1 in 4 women experience an attempted or completed rape, and according to this study, 1 in 2 women experience some form of sexual victimisation, the female course participants are likely to know female friends, family, and even colleagues who have undergone these experiences. Knowledge is power, in this case, power to help.

'Approximately one fifth of women said they seriously contemplated suicide after their index assaults(19.1%).' Post assault/victimisation strategies. If WSD courses are to be the complete package, they must cater for pre, during, and post phases of an assault.

There is a great deal of food for thought in the findings arising out of this study's questionnaires concerning sexual victimisation. The next blog looks at the differences self defence or assertiveness training has.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Women's Self Defence Courses - Effective or Not? - Pt 1

I'll use the Women's Self Defence (WSD) course developed by Debbie Clarke while she was an instructor with the Jan de Jong Self Defence School (JDJSDS) as a case study to study the issue of WSD courses generally. See http://southerncrossbujutsu.com.au/martial-arts-taught/self-defence-for-women.aspx for her current work.

Clarke's WSD course was designed as a six week course with lessons of 2 hours duration per week. Variations of the format were developed when teaching the course to female students at various high schools in the Perth metropolitan area. One elite private girls school included it as a compulsory course for all their year 11 girls.

A feature of the course was that it was designed by a woman for women based on a female experience of violence. It was also designed to be taught by a woman to women. I was the only male instructor within the JDJSDS to be trained in teaching the WSD course, and to teach it for a number of years. This was because I was working full-time for the JDJSDS at the time, and the other (senior) instructors did not hold the WSD course in high regard. They taught 'martial arts', something that has to be trained for years, with dedication, before you can be effective in surviving a violent encounter.

One thing that is never in short supply of in the martial arts is opinion. Most people involved seem to have one on many violence related subjects, and they are not adverse to sharing their opinions. One commonly held opinion, particularly by male martial artists, is that WSD courses are largely, if not totally, ineffective. Or worse, they provide participants with a false sense of security.

One thing that is also never short supply of in the martial arts is uninformed opinions. The martial arts are bastions of anti-intellectualism for the large part. God forbid that research would be undertaken in order to inform these opinions, including those associated with the effectiveness of WSD courses.

In researching Beyond Fight-or-Flight, I came across this article in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence: Self-Defense or Assertiveness Training and Women's Responses to Sexual Attacks by L.R. Brecklin and S.E. Ullman, 2005, 20: 6, 738-762.
Self-defense classes aim to prevent violence against women by strengthening women's capacity to defend themselves; however, little research has examined the effects of self-defense training on women's attempts to fight back during actual attacks. This study investigated the relationship of self-defense or assertiveness training and women's physical and psychological responses to subsequent rape attacks.
In this and the next couple of blogs, we'll look at various aspects of this study and the content of the article.
Self-defense training prepares women both mentally and physically for potential assaults (...) by providing them with opportunities to learn, observe, and practice physical, social, and cognitive skills through the use of role-plays, discussion, and simulation exercises (...). Women's self-defense tactics are meant to be practical, simple, and effective in common situations, so that all women can learn them regardless of age, size, previous experiences, and physical strength (...). Women's self-defense lessons often include learning how to create impromptu weapons (e.g., comb, keys) and how to use body parts (e.g., fists, elbows, knees) against the offender's particularly vulnerable body targets (e.g., eyes, jaw, nose, groin) in various situations (...).
Firstly, the '(...)' replaces the references that Brecklin and Ullman have referred too. This will be consistently employed in direct quotes from the article in this blog. Secondly, their description of self-defence courses corresponds with Clarke's WSD course. Their discussion on self-defence courses generally refers to numerous other studies which, unfortunately, are hidden away in academic journals:
After completing self-defense classes, evaluations have shown increases in the following domains for women: assertiveness, self-esteem, perceived control, anticipatory behaviors, self-efficacy, masculinity attributes (e.g. active, independent), anger, dominance, self-defense skills, physical competence, and decreases in anxiety, depression, hostility, fear, and avoidance behaviors (...).
I wonder, did the increase in masculinity attributes include an increase in arrogance? Note the increase in anger. What do you think that is all about? My sourcing this article had to do with research into our evolved survival mechanism and our learned survival mechanism for Beyond Fight-or-Flight. Most people do not understand that the fight-or-flight concept is only associated with fear. However, the literature associates violence with fear, anger, no emotion, and positive emotions. Each of these emotions entails different subjective feelings, physiological responses, cognitive capabilities, action tendencies, and behavioural responses. Fight-or-flight is only looking at one small part of a larger 'violence elephant'.
Studies have found that successful rape resisters were more assertive, confident, dominant, perceived more control over their lives, and showed more initiative, persistence, and leadership compared with women who were raped (...), demonstrating that psychological changes because of participation in self-defense training may have substantial implications for subsequent rape avoidance. Increasing women's assertiveness skills is especially important in light of a recent prospective study showing that low assertiveness specific to situations with men was predictive of future victimization in a sample of 274 college women (...). Empowering women with the tools to respond to threats may serve to both protect and liberate them (...).
It's not looking good for the WSD course detractors.
Although self-defense training may have positive psychological and behavioral effects on female participants, very little empirical research has examined whether self-defense training is related to actual rape avoidance among women who later face a rape attack. In Bart and O’Brien's (1985) landmark interview study of 51 rape avoiders and 43 rape victims, rape avoiders were nearly twice as likely to have learned self-defense as women who were raped. In a descriptive study, Peri (1991) found that of 8,000 female graduates of Model Mugging, a self-defense course, 120 have reported using nonphysical strategies (e.g., screaming) to avoid an assault. In addition, 46 out of 48 graduates of Model Mugging who were physically assaulted after the course chose to fight back physically and reported being able to disable the offender enough to avoid further harm (Peri, 1991). This prior research suggests that self-defense training may be related to rape avoidance for participants; however, more rigorous studies are needed to verify this relationship.
If these studies were more generally known, they could be used to support the efficacy of these WSD courses. This in turn increases the confidence of the participants in the efficacy of these courses which could increase their commitment to the instruction and the implementation of the instruction.
Numerous empirical research studies have examined the role of victim resistance in rape incidents, using police reports and retrospective self-report surveys. Victims' use of forceful physical resistance (e.g. hitting, kicking, biting) is typically related to avoiding completed rape (...). In prior studies examining the temporal order of assault events (e.g. offender attack, victim resistance, rape or injury outcomes), forceful physical resistance (FPR) was not related to greater injury (...) but was still related to avoiding completed rape. Nonforceful physical resistance (NFPR) (e.g. fleeing, blocking blows) has also been found to be related to less rape completion (...) and unrelated to physical injury (...). Several studies have shown that forceful verbal resistance (FVR) (e.g. screaming, yelling at, or threatening offender) is related to rape avoidance ...), but its relationship with physical injury has been inconsistent. Forceful verbal resistance was linked to greater physical injury (...) in studies without sequence information (...); but in one study, analyzing sequence of events, this strategy was unrelated to injury (...). Finally, nonforceful verbal resistance (NFVR) (e.g. pleading, begging, reasoning) has been found to be related to greater severity of sexual abuse and unrelated to physical injury (...). Based on this research, it appears that the techniques taught most often in self-defense training (e.g. hitting, kicking, yelling) are related to rape avoidance, implying that self-defense may reduce women's severity of sexual victimization.
Firstly, it is not uncommon to see and hear of law enforcement officials advising females to not resist a sexual assault because it is likely to increase the violence involved. The studies suggest this is simplistic reasoning - which should come as no surprise in this area. The risk of increased violence appears to be dependent upon the type of resistance, rather than resistance per se. Secondly, all of the above behaviours are identified in Beyond Fight-or-Flight in the chapter which expands upon the original fight-or-flight concept in terms of behavioural responses. The reference to the fight-or-flight concept and related theory in terms of understanding violence is seriously limited. The question that needs to be asked, and which is not in the many academic disciplines I've been researching and integrating to write Beyond Fight-or-Flight, is: what emotion is being experienced when these behaviours are enacted? Fear is the obvious answer; but what about anger? After all, the action tendency of anger is fight as per emotion theory and Walter Cannon's original fight-or-flight model.

And finally, the research implies that WSD courses may reduce women's severity of sexual victimisation. Right now, it's 15:love in favour of WSD course supports vs their detractors. Next blog we'll have a look at the findings of this study and associated comments.